Claremont, Calif. (August 25, 2020)—Pitzer College alumna Lillian Horin ’17 is one of 45 doctoral students nationwide, along with their advisers, to receive a Howard Hughes Medical Institute 2020 Gilliam Fellowship to advance diversity and inclusion in the sciences.
Horin is currently pursuing a PhD in biological and biomedical sciences at Harvard University. Her dissertation advisors are Timothy Mitchison, cell biologist and professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and Joe Italiano Jr., associate professor of medicine at HMS and associate biologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Mitchison will act as Horin’s Gilliam adviser.
The goals of the Gilliam program are to ensure that populations historically excluded from and underrepresented in science are prepared to assume leadership roles, including as college and university faculty, and to foster the development of a healthier, more inclusive academic scientific ecosystem.
Horin said that although she and Mitchison only recently received the award, members of the HHMI community have already welcomed them into the larger Gilliam and HHMI family. “It is invigorating to be surrounded by so many intelligent and unique scientists that also share similar experiences as I have. Fostering these deep connections will be vital to establishing an academic career in biology,” she said.
For up to three years, each adviser-student pair will receive an annual award totaling $50,000. In addition to receiving a stipend, fellows will be invited to attend the annual Gilliam meeting (to be held virtually this year) and scientific meetings at HHMI headquarters. Advisers will participate in a year of mentor training, where they will learn about cultural identities and how to listen and engage across cultures.
“These fellows are amazing scientists,” said HHMI program officer Sonia Zárate, who noted the pressures the fellows face during unprecedented times. “With the coronavirus pandemic, and the pandemic of racism in this country, students have reached their breaking point and have issued a call to action. It’s really on us to fix the environment so they can focus their energy on doing the science they love.”
The Gilliam Fellowship is one of several awards Horin has received during her academic career. As an undergraduate at Pitzer, she earned national recognition in 2016-17 as a Barry Goldwater Scholar, an honor given to exceptional college sophomores and juniors in the US who are majoring in mathematics, science or engineering. Also in 2016, she was selected as one of 70 undergraduates in the US to participate in the HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program, in which she researched retinal metabolism at Harvard Medical School during the summer.
Yet, when Horin first came to Pitzer, science was a subject she had hoped to minimally encounter. Originally planning to major in political studies, Horin said she “dreaded” the science class needed to fulfill her liberal arts requirement. Then, a positive experience with the Summer Science Immersion Program at the Keck Science Center convinced her to sign up for STEM courses her first semester.
“This set in motion the path to biology research I find myself in today,” she said.
“When I struggled in my science courses, faculty mentors empowered me, and my social sciences and humanities courses gave me a vocabulary that validated my experience. Now, as I set my sights on becoming an academic scientist, I feel like I have the tools to learn how to be the best mentor I can be for students that are historically excluded from STEM.”
As she pursues her doctoral degree, Horin is interested in understanding how a subset of the cell cytoskeleton, known as microtubules, helps blood cells carry out their specialized roles within the immune system.
“Defining subpopulations will be an important step in treating platelet disorders without removing a patient’s ability to clot blood,” she said. “Additionally, under Tim’s supervision, I am using computational tools to analyze the microtubule network of circulating white blood cells.”